Designers
The Sims 2: Creator, 2005

Will Wright

Location: Redwood City, California
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When Will Wright introduced SimCity in 1989, the game was a surprise hit. This open-ended, nonviolent game, which models the evolution of virtual towns, gave the mass market its first real taste of a simulation game—and players were hooked. Wright’s company, Maxis, followed up on the success of SimCity with a string of popular simulation games throughout the 1990s. No one was prepared, however, for the enormous appeal of The Sims, introduced in 2000. The Sims allows players to create and control the daily lives of “Sims” (simulated people), whose behavior is dictated by artificial intelligence. The sequel, The Sims 2, released in 2004, adds digital DNA to the game, allowing users to track their Sims across a lifetime and over generations, as they pass genetic information onto their offspring.

Instead of putting players inside the scene— behind the wheel of a car, or in the sights of a rifle— The Sims games (known as “God games”) place them above it, allowing players to observe a life that they have constructed but do not fully control. Much of the fun lies in designing environments—building rooms, adding walls, placing furniture—working in the 3-D isometric view of an architect. Committed players have a strong sense of ownership over their own renditions of the game; a movie-making feature allows users to record the game via a digital “camera” that can change angles and zoom in on the action.

Spore, Wright’s latest development project, takes the design of life to a vast new scale, exploring everything from the struggle to survive in the primordial soup to intergalactic conquest. The game allows players to evolve from a primitive microorganism into an intelligent, tool-using creature with the power to explore and colonize the universe. Tasked with designing a creature, a player can choose to add three mouths, a spiked tail, or an extra-long backbone; the software interprets the design on the fly, determining how such a creature would walk, hunt, and interact. Slight changes in the creature’s design, such as lengthening or shortening the neck, yield markedly different results.

Further reflecting Wright’s revolutionary new approach to game design, all the creatures a player encounters will be designed by other players. Anyone who plays Spore can share content by uploading it onto a shared database. Since gamers are actually playing with their content, and not against another person, they are free to design the universe they choose using these common resources. As Wright explains, “The players in some sense become part of the design team.”1 Spore is a game— and a world—built by its users, one creature at a time.

1 Quote from Wired News, interview with Daniel Terdiman, 2005- 05-20. http://www.wired.com/news/e3/0,67581-1.html?tw=wn_story_ page_next1 (January 22, 2006).